Spring Equinox is traditionally a time for new beginnings. This is my first column, which I welcomed as an opportunity to teach, learn and give back to the community.
Each of us came to this path in our own way and it has been my pleasure to hear many different stories. Now that you are here, the big question is where to turn to learn. There are a variety of ways to accomplish this, each with its own pros and cons, but the best is from other Pagans.
There is nothing that can compare to learning from another person face to face and I hope that each of you has this experience. It has been my pleasure to meet several other Pagans performing my job of delivering the mail. There is a popular saying, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. My experience was that I met a seasoned Witch who took me under her wing as my mentor. She never taught me in the conventional sense, but she was always available to talk with, answer questions, and offer advice at a time when I was becoming more serious on my path and needed the reassurance that I was not the only one. The advantages are that you are learning from someone who has been there, done that, who can demonstrate, answer questions and offer advice and usually has an impressive library. The disadvantages are finding such a person or group and then finding the time to meet with them. While the great majority of people you meet are ethical and sincere, there is the occasional big ego or person who expects you to go against your moral compass. Use common sense and trust your gut feelings.
Finding other Pagans to meet in person can be frustrating, but is well worth the effort. You may be asking yourself, “where are the local Pagans?” You may see the occasional person dressed all in black with lots of jewelry and makeup, but in my experience, they are either Goths (a lifestyle in its own right) or those who dress that way for shock value. Every Pagan I have met is a regular person whose actions and appearance do not scream out for attention. Among my Pagan friends have been: clothing store saleslady, truck driver, convenience store cashier, students, stay at home moms, artists, Avon representative and newspaper staffer.
Once you have found other Pagans, the challenge in our daily lives is how to find the time to learn from them. Being able to sit down with them and join them in ritual is ideal, but many of us, myself included, do not have the time. I usually work 50 to 60 hours six days a week, so by the time I would get home from work, shower and drive the hour or so to one of the two area groups that I have been in contact with, the ritual, class or meeting would be over. I attended one meeting of a local group, but it soon fizzled out as unfortunately many small groups do. Almost a year ago, I participated in an open ritual at a shop in Indianapolis and found it a worthwhile experience. There are Pagan festivals, especially in the summer, which are advertised online and in Pagan magazines and Pagan Pride Day activities, which have become more common every year and are traditionally held in September.
You can find other Pagans to chat or exchange emails with online at www.witchvox.com, www.paganspace.com, www.celticcauldron.com or other sites if you look around. I’ve found quite a few on www.myspace.com. Most of my conversations with other Pagans have been about 10 or 15 minutes here and there, but it has been richly rewarding and often I’ve learned more in these chats than from an hour or more of reading. In person learning is not always a mentor or teacher. While working on this column, I met another Pagan delivering her mail and we struck up a conversation. Through friendships like this, I have both learned and taught and my path has been the richer because of each person who has crossed it.
While learning from another is best, it is not the only way. Books are popular and have several advantages. You can learn at your own pace and keep them for reference. They often have tables of correspondences, glossaries, diagrams and recommended reading lists. You may even find books that are not specifically Pagan that will help your studies, such as herbalism, mythology or fantasy art. On the downside, cost can add up, especially if you buy dozens of them as I and most of the other Pagans I have known well have. Many stores that sell books and some bookstores will not carry Pagan titles. Although, you can now find a nice selection of pagan reading material at most Barnes and Nobles bookstores, as well as, your local Metaphysical shops. If cost is a concern, some public libraries carry Pagan books, although they are stolen more often than most titles. Perhaps a friend can loan you books, but please return them. While I have never seen used ones at a yard sale, I have seen and bought them online and even found out of print books that way. Judging from Pagans I have known, this is the most popular method of learning, but don’t jump to the conclusion that reading a book or two makes you an expert. In a similar vein, there are Pagan magazines. You can find magazines with different approaches and I have found most of them to be quite helpful and entertaining, while some did not take their subject seriously enough. Like books, they can be hard to find and are generally not for beginners, although you may find ads for Pagan festivals in your area and personal ads from those looking for pen pals. There are both in print and online magazines available.
Online resources have bloomed in recent years. It is possible to find a seemingly endless variety of articles, opinions, research, networking and how to articles. The main advantages are ease of use; nothing to buy if you already have a computer and the ability to find others with whom to interact while you can protect your identity. The disadvantage is that some of the material out there is plagiarized or just plain bad. I have seen a lot of well written, informative sites presenting a lot of different views, but also a few sites with book excerpts and poetry not credited to the author or things that are not a part of Paganism or historical inaccuracies presented as fact.
The difference with learning this religion and things related to it is that it is not a school subject, but rather a philosophy and way of life. It’s like the difference between learning the words of a foreign language and immersing yourself in its culture. Since we are a nature centered religion, spend time in nature being quiet, paying attention and learning in ways you will not get from a book or website. Mother Nature and everyday experiences will teach anyone who is willing and patient enough. A big help to finding other Pagans is to keep your eyes open, notice the hints and realize that they may be just around the corner. Rather than delve into this now, I will be addressing this in my new column “Pagandar” starting next month.